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Archive for the ‘Obama Positions’ Category

Fighting the Next War, Part One

Posted by Bob Kohm on July 21, 2009

America has a nasty habit when it comes to maintaining our military– we fight, throw all of our economic and industrial might into the battle… and then destroy the military created the day after the armistice is signed.  The ugliness of this cycle has, of course, become greatly magnified during the era of industrial-technological warfare; with the drawdown post-World War I setting us up for WW II, the post-WW II drawdown enabling the North Koreans to launch their war in 1950 and push the Americans all the way to Pusan within roughly 5 weeks. Drawdowns occurred even in the Cold War settings that followed Korea and Viet Nam, always returning America to a dramatically weakened strategic position than it was in during the war.

The reasons for this are clear– in a democratic society war fatigue runs high and the will of the people to be reminded of war after the fact is low, leading to demands for a “peace dividend” and for tremendously reduced military spending. This is, of course, a sensible response– unbridled military spending during peace time can be ruinous, but in the course of American history we have traditionally overcompensated for this sentiment and cut back to the point of fundamental weakness with relation to our global responsibilities.

As the most active portion of the ill conceived and strategically unsuccessful “War on Terror” comes to a close with the shuttering of the Iraq Theater, war fatigue is running particularly high at the same time America deals with a financial crisis that makes spending on military systems particularly painful. The situation is further complicated by the traditional dual impetus to reduce military capacity coming at a time of transitional technology, in which robotic systems seem nearly ready to displace traditional man-in-front systems.

Into this maelstrom flies the F-22 Raptor, a tremendously advanced aircraft with no clear role in the current war and a pricetag that represents the cost of ten to fourteen F-15s, the current American fighter in the air superiority role that the F-22 seeks to fill.

The Obama Administration’s stance on the F-22 is clear– we don’t want this thing. The Congress is divided between fiscal responsibility and the fact that suppliers for the F-22 project have been strategically salted throughout the most important Congressional Districts in the nation, making the vote tough for key Congressmen and Senators. The Air Force sees the design potential of the aircraft and wants many, many more. The other three services see the Raptor as the usual platinum plated Air Force toy– good only for air-to-air combat and useless in the close air support role that has been so incredibly vital to the Marines & Army in this and the past several wars. They may have a point– since 1991 and Operation Desert Shield/Storm, through Somalia and Kosovo and the WoT, the US Air Force has made fewer than 25 air-to-air kills against jets of an enemy air force, all of them in 1991 in the air war phase of Desert Storm. In that same time, over 10,000 missions have been flown against targets on the ground.

Oddly enough, that disparity makes, for both sides, the most militarily compelling argument over the F-22. The President, the members of the DoD not wearing blue suits, and the budget conscious can point to the scarcity of air-to-air combat and make the seemingly rock solid case that an incredibly expensive air superiority fighter is unneeded; the Air Force can conversely claim that we have fallen into the trap of falling the last war rather than preparing for the next against a more symmetric adversary against whom the F-22 would be a key to American victory over China, Russia or (in a stretch) Iran. “Fighting the last war” is a phrase loaded with meaning to military planners and historians, an indictment of the thinking that what worked last time will prevail next. The Maginot Line is an oft-cited example of fighting the last war; the French built a huge line of fixed positions that mimicked the trench system of the First World War in the hope that it would secure France from Germany; Germany on the other hand had prepared for the next war by developing mobile operations featuring tanks and trucks that easily outflanked the Maginot Line. It’s a damning accusation.

Later today the Congress will issue an up or down vote on continued funding for the F-22, and the vote counters are hard at work trying to figure out the balance between self interest, military necessity, financial prudence and technological advance. Running Local will be back after the vote with Part Two of the story.

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Posted in American Politics, Obama Positions, Warfare | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Rushing to the Forefront

Posted by Bob Kohm on March 2, 2009

Speaker of the GOP Rush Limbaugh

Speaker of the GOP Rush Limbaugh

All hail Rush Limbaugh, the intellectual leader of the New Right.

Did you just feel that vibration coming up from the earth, through the seat of your pants? It was Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich and the rest of the 2012 GOP hopefuls quaking.

Yesterday morning Rahm Emmanuel provided a glimpse into the political strategy of the White House on Face the Nation when he acknowledged Limbaugh as being the face of and controlling influence behind the national conservative community. Limbaugh himself must be delighted with the Presidential imprimatur that comes with that acknowledgment as are many in the rank and file of Limbaugh’s listeners– the way to Limbaugh’s heart is clearly through his ego, as even a casual observer must note. Not so happy are the thinking members of the Republican Party and certainly the leadership of the Party; being labelled the intellectual acolyte of Limbaugh is not only gauling to them, it is also politically dangerous.

As the self proclaimed high priest of the “I Pray Obama Fails” clique, Limbaugh has set himself at a goal that is counter to what should always be the first cause of all Americans no matter their philosophy or political bent– the prosperity and well being of our nation and our people. That is the glue that holds our nation together as a cohesive unit, that desire for what is best for our country; it is, literally, the unifying concept that defines us as a nation. To come out and say in so public a manner as Limbaugh has that you hope our President fails and thus our nation’s situation and peril grow worse– that’s an unfortunate tack to be sailing. Today our nation faces its greatest financial challenge since the Depression, as we’ve all had ingrained into ourselves by the constant drumbeat of financial failure and fraud; Americans are losing their jobs at a horrifying pace, they’re losing their homes, they’re losing their children’s educational future. Our economy contracted almost seven percent in a quarter and our personal debt loads ever increase as lenders jack our credit card rates to stratospheric levels even while we are denied credit for cars, homes and emergency repairs– imagine for a second what it would be like for you, personally, if you suddenly needed to buy a new heating and cooling system tomorrow, or if you needed to do a major sewer repair costing thousands of dollars.

For political gain, Rush Limbaugh effectively is hoping that the situation grows even worse, that your pain increases, that the money now being spent is wasted to no effect.  What better time for President Obama to acknowledge his intellectual leadership of the Republican Party?

The GOP has fed the talk radio beast since the early 1990s and has enjoyed some extraordinary benefits from its advent and growth; it fueled the “Contract With America” programs of the Gingrich Congress, it promoted the culture wars ethos of the Religious Right, it weighed in, some might say decisively, on the 2000 vote recounts and battles that saw its favored son, George W. Bush, installed in the Presidency against the will of the majority of voters and then re-elected to a second term largely on the wings of a smear campaign against his opponent’s Vietnam War record. As a tactical weapon, Republican Talk Radio has been extraordinarily useful, and no organ of Republican Talk Radio has played louder or more consistently that Limbaugh, who now professes a desire for our President to fail in ending a crisis and for our national and personal peril to deepen.

It has often been said that an untrained person with a handgun is a greater danger to himself than he is to his assailant as the most likely outcome of a confrontation is that his gun will be taken and used against him. Rush Limbaugh is now that gun, and Rahm Emmanuel has grabbed it and pointed it very steadily at the GOP.

By making Limbaugh the public’s perception of the thinking of the GOP  Emmanuel has taken a group and philosophy that represents a large if shrinking portion of America’s voters and turned it into the preserve of fringe lunatics, praying for the failure of our nation and the increased power of our enemies and rivals. My brother, an Assistant District Attorney and trial lawyer, once taught me an important lesson about public perception– the one thing that nobody wants to be thought of as is “silly”. When in front of a jury, the one thing you want to impart is that in order to find for the defendant you must accept something that is “silly” and thus become silly yourself. That lesson is tailored to this situation; Emmanuel has pointed out how silly Limbaugh’s stance is while at the same time making it representative of the GOP; in order to support the GOP you too must be silly. It’s a deceptively powerful tactic.

The GOP has even further imperiled itself in this by its actions of a few weeks ago, when Georgia Republican Congressman Phil Gingrey was forced to apologize to Rush Limbaugh for daring to opine that it was easier for Limbaugh and Sean Hannity to talk about opposing the president than it was for a Congressman to actually do it. The pageant of shame that Gingrey was forced to play his very public role in was astounding– an elected Congressman being forced to publicly kiss the ring of a popular entertainer was horrifying to John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, but they also saw the necessity of doing it for Gingrey. In that vision, they saw their control of the GOP slip away and Rush Limbaugh’s role pass from cheerleader to Quarterback. That Obama and Emmanuel saw it as well and would eventually emphasize it was fait accompli.

As Rush Limbaugh, the Speaker of the GOP, calls for lockstep, unwavering opposition to a very popular President and what has rapidly become a surprisingly popular Congress and then takes it a step beyond in publicly calling for the failure of our nation’s policies and the deepening of our national pain there is no force in the RNC or GOP at large who can seemingly oppose him. The dog has taken control of the master as talk radio, with all its fuming opprobrium, displaces the hand on the dial that created and for so long controlled it.

The tactical move by Obama & Emmanuel is underlain by a strategic understanding of the situation in general that the GOP never did achieve; does anyone else recall the claims by many in the Conservative Media during 2007 and 2008 that the Kossacks and NetRoots would undermine the Democrats and the “weak” Obama in particular and draw them so far to the left that they would become unpalatable to mainstream America? Clearly the blogosphere and the New Media as embodied by HuffPo and TPM are the belated but extremely modern response to Republican Talk Radio, and surely the Daily Kos crowd has tried to stake a claim to running the ship it is supposed to be crewing. A funny thing happened on the way to that mutiny, however; Obama was elected on a moderate platform and appointed a bipartisan Cabinet that emphasized effectiveness and intellect over philosophical purity, much to the chagrin of the NetRoots. That disappointment should terrify the RNC as a repeat of their mistakes is not evidently coming for their rivals.

At this point no matter whom the GOP nominates in 2012 Mr. Obama will be running against Rush Limbaugh, not Mike Huckabee, Mark Sanford, Mitt Romney or Sarah Palin.  Of course, that might not make much of a difference as the eventual nominee will need the pre-approval of the GOP’s new maximum leader, Rush Limbaugh. All hail.

Posted in American Politics, CongressCritters, Cultural Phenomena, Obama Positions | 3 Comments »

Playing Chicken With The Train

Posted by Bob Kohm on January 28, 2009

“I’m big and black, clickety clack, and I make the train jump the track like that”–Cowboy Troy…because, hey, how often do you get to open a political post with a Hick-Hop quote, right?

One has to question whether or not John Boehner is clinically stupid. I’m sorry, I know that’s a fairly harsh lede, but really, Mr. Boehner, have you lost not only your mind but your will to lead the House GOP back into a position of at least some authority after the 2010 midterms?

Yesterday saw President Obama’s barreling freight train take a short ride down Pennsylvania Avenue to meet with the House GOP on their own turf, in the Capitol itself. Mr. Obama, who has built a national popular groundswell on the concept of a post-partisan Presidency has also done something a bit more realistic amongst the political cognoscenti– he’s made them understand that as far as the media is concerned that groundswell is at least founded on a sincere effort to work across the aisle.

How– no, why– then would Mr. Boehner try to marshall a lockstep partyline vote ont he Stimulus Package and show his hand before Obama convened the meeting with the House GOP? Is there a worse move that Mr. Boehner could have executed than to put a nation hungry for cooperation and terrified of where the economy is going than to show that he will not even pretend to cooperate and will let the economy burn while he plays politics with our lives?

I understand that there are philosophical differences between President Obama’s vision of how to fix the economy and, say, Jeb Hensarling’s or Jim DeMint’s in the Senate. They are part of a legitimate policy debate and absolutely need to be explored– which is what the President was doing on the Hill yesterday. It’s easy to spout a cynical view of the meeting and say that Obama went to simply break the GOP to his view, but it would also be an incorrect view; if Obama wanted a simple show he would’ve summoned Boehner, Eric Cantor, and a few other GOP Leadership/fiscal conservatives to the Oval for a photo op. He didn’t– in his first week he actually went to the Capitol rather than bringing people to the White House and met with the full GOP Conference. If you aren’t a DC type, what you need to understand is that a President leaving his turf to go to the Hill for something like this is a sign of one of two things– a defeated President or a hell of a lot of respect. Clearly, Obama is no defeated President.

So, in said hungry country, a wildly popular and brand new President humbles himself by going to the Hill as a sign of how willing he is to work with a loyal opposition. What is the media treated to by his hosts? A pre-meeting flurry of press avails featuring GOP leadership and ranking members saying that they are voting against the plan before even hearing what President Obama has to say. Politically, this is madness.

What Minority Leader Boehner is trying to do is clear– he’s trying to carve out a position for the GOP for 2010 by opposing government spending. Forgetting how laughable that is after the last eight years of GOP largess, it is understandable– he’s in a failing and falling minority and his only “traditional” lifeline is to stake out a position diametrically opposed to the Democrats and appeal to his base. By doing this, however, Rep. Boehner ignores a few things. First, America is scared and looking for someone to do something to get the long process of fixing our economy under way and, rightly or wrongly, they are blaming the traditional GOP positions and personalities for creating the crisis. The way for the GOP to start picking up seats is, clearly, not retreating to those positions. Second, Mr. Boehner is courting the tag of being an obstructionist, perhaps intentionally, perhaps not. Either way, it is the absolute wrong tenor for him to be taking– people want an amalgam of Democratic & Republican positions to make up this bill but they’ll settle for a purely Democratic one. Boehner, if he wants to forestall another dramatic loss in 2010 (and another serious internal challenge to his leadership this Spring), needs to get some of his positions into bills like this by cooperating and showing that the GOP is capable of governing at all.

Right now, that capability is seriously in question.

Posted in American Politics, CongressCritters, Economy, Obama Positions | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Obama to Islam: We Are Not Your Enemy

Posted by Bob Kohm on January 27, 2009

President Obama (and doesn’t it feel good to read that instead of “President-elect Obama”?) gave an interview to al-Arabiya satellite TV and in the process declared to the Muslim world that the United States is not it’s enemy.

While from our perspective Obama is correct, this will obviously be a tough sell to many in the Islamic nations. The reality is that we must and will be continuing combat operations against or at least within Islamic nations for the foreseeable future– the devolution of Pakistan is going to be one of the major foreign policy story of the next two years along with the fall and Islamification of Mubarak’s Egypt, we are likely going to be seeing a lot more about major coordinated operations in Afghanistan, sooner or later the Special Ops types conducting operations in Indonesia and the Philippines are going to get picked up on by the main stream media, etc.

Is it unreasonable to ask the Islamic people to see us as anything other than an enemy? To put it closer to our own cultural experience, let’s ignore our strategic treaty alliance with the Aussies and suppose that China or India attacked Australia. Even though they wouldn’t be attacking the US, would we feel an enmity towards the Chinese? Does anyone recall a wave of Argentinian sympathy when the Falklands war was going on? Me either. Perhaps even more on point is the reaction of the Russians to the NATO operations against their Slavic brethren in Serbia. There was no compelling strategic linkage between Belgrade and Moscow, but that became the very identifiable pivot upon which the emotions of the Russian people turned on the West, facilitating the emergence of Putin’s dictatorial powers.

As an American, I do not view Islam as an enemy although I do see it as being the facilitator for the emergence of our enemies. It’s a fairly nuanced view and one that I realize many of our countrymen don’t share for a number of reasons, from positions that posit that Islam is indeed the enemy to the neo-Buddhist views of the far left that hold we have no enemy except ourself. In the Islamic nations, especially in the ones that are lacking in affluence and education, it is so much easier to simply hear the Pat Robertsons and Dick Cheneys of our nation who make noises about Islam being the enemy than it is to convey nuance just as in our nation, despite its affluence and education, it is so much easier to simply see binLaden as the face of Islam.

President Obama is making the right choices and broadcasting the right message; I am concerned, however, that any message, no matter how  correct, can not penetrate the cloud of static that has been fostered byt he previous administration. Now more than last month the United States is not the enemy of Islam; the question is if the often mentioned “Muslim Street” is even tuned in anymore.

Posted in Foreign Affairs, Islamists, Middle East, Obama Positions | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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